The other night I attended a lively Refresh Austin meetup at the Capital Factory. The first speaker of the night was Casey Hunt, UT Libraries developer & creator of Pleo, an autonomous robotic dinosaur. His speech was entitled: Creative Extinction: An Incredible Idea, Falling Incredibly.
Casey spoke about the creation & demise of Pleo the dinosaur. Pleo was the brainchild of Caleb Chung, co-creator of Furby. Caleb’s vision was to create a product with a soul that children would form an emotional connection with. They understood that it couldn’t be a familiar creature like a cat or dog as it would always fall short of their expectations. So they choose a creature that people hadn’t yet been able to have much experience with but, would of course want as a pet. After all who can say they wouldn’t want a baby dinosaur as a pet?
The beginning of Pleo started off strong. The development team consisted of ten folks passionate about the project. They trekked out to Boise, Idaho & set up shop in a little garage. Meanwhile, the parent company Ugobe, had expensive offices in a fancy town with a strong drive to make money.
Despite the differing perspectives & circumstances of the developers vs. the parent company, as well as, the large base cost of $175& even larger retail cost of $300, Pleo sold very well in many countries across the globe. The US was an exception to that as the marketing team failed to see the vision of Pleo. They put him tethered in a plastic bubble at Target which didn’t show off his innate charm & autonomous nature. They even went as far as having him destroyed mercilessly by a BattleBot which caused children in the audience to scream in horror. On the contrary, the Italian marketing teams understood Pleo & hosted adoption days. This made all the difference in the world.
Due to this core purpose being lost, extravagant spending of Ugobe executives & poor business deals, Ugobe went bankrupt & Pleo nearly died. Pleo’s product copyright was sold to the Chinese factory who pretty much destroyed the natural appearance of Pleo, replacing his skin tones with a toxic cotton candy look. They buried the simple, clean look & feel of the website with a dollar store saver approach. Thus a shell of the incredible Pleo is all that remains today.
For me this reiterated how vital good communication skills are. If you & your client are not on the same page, both parties will end up dissatisfied. If you both are one in vision & speaking the same language, beautiful things can happen.
Have you ever had a seemingly incredible idea that failed for one reason or the other? Have you ever been in a situation where it seems all parties are from different planets? Please feel free to share your experiences and resolutions in the comments below.